CAN JEWISH CRITICS OF ISRAEL BE EVEN-HANDED AND NOT VITUPERATIVE?
Diana Neslen, of Jews for Justice for Palestinians ( Letters, August 5) complains that people who “challenge the policies of the Israeli government” are “demonised and denied the opportunity to debate and discuss their views within Jewish venues”. She continues, “Let’s not shut down discussion on an issue which provokes so much passion.” I am sure most of your readers would support her plea for free debate — not just in Jewish venues, but in all venues where Israel is debated.
On that basis, I wonder how much hullabaloo Diana Neslen is kicking up about the serious and often violent stifling of supporters of Israel trying to express their views in public debate.
In the JC of February 10, for example, you reported how, at Edinburgh University, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s most senior Muslim diplomat came for a debate and faced a student mob which shouted him down and called him a Nazi. The event was abandoned.
The following month in the JC we read: “Israeli lecturer attacked by Belfast pro-Palestine activists”, which continued: “An Israeli law lecturer had to be rescued by security officers when a seminar was abandoned after being disrupted by pro-Palestinian demonstrators… at Queen’s University in Belfast.”
Then, on July 14, you reported on a debate about Israel at the London Literary Festival. Here, Jonathan Freedland and Carol Gould, both speaking against a proposed boycott of Israel, “were repeatedly shouted down by pro-Palestinian activists”. It is clear that one of the principal tactics of pro-Palestinian activists is to utterly silence their opponents — rather than to allow them “the opportunity to debate and discuss their views”.
If Ms Neslen is truly sincere in her wish to promote free debate about Israel, then let us hear what she and her friends in JfJfP are doing to fight against the anti-democratic tactics of their fellow activists who, again using Ms Neslen’s words, try to “shut down discussion on an issue which provokes so much passion”. (Dr) Colin Linder Carlton Close, Edgware, Middlesex
In 2005, I came in for considerable flak following a report you carried of a sermon wherein I denounced the distinguished novelist Amos Oz as a “Jew-hating Jew”. My ire was aroused at that time by a most insensitive interview he gave to the BBC, which was subsequently published in The Times, during the course of which he launched a devastating attack on the ideology and religious Zionistic values of the settlers in the very week they were losing their homes, communities and livelihood in an Israeli withdrawal.
My distaste at his desire to publicise his vituperative, anti-religious views in the pages of the British national press was intensified this week in a diatribe he wrote in The Times. He referred to situations fuelling the current protests and draining the resources of the state of Israel. One of these is “the mammoth sums channelled into the ultra-Orthodox yeshivas, where generations of ignorant bums grow, filled with contempt toward the state, its people and the 21st-century reality”.
There may be a place for such a coarse, highly biased and sweeping denunciation of an entire religious system in the context of one of his novels. But just what did he think was to be gained by disseminating all that venom among the British public? Oz should be thoroughly ashamed of himself for this act of treachery to his ancestral tradition.
The yeshivah world is not beyond criticism but a writer of Oz’s ability should know how to promote social change constructively and from within. Whining to the British media can only diminish his credibility and prove counter-productive. (Rabbi Dr) Jeffrey M Cohen email@example.com